Someone, somewhere in Clear Lake had a great idea 10 years ago.
What about a party, a festival, to celebrate the waning of the summer breezes and the arrival of autumn? A chance to flood Main Avenue with food and fun just as the leaves are turning and the air is getting cooler.
What if we had wine and pumpkins, music, local arts and crafts, games and more food?
The Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce Harvest Festival was born 10 years ago this autumn and will make its annual return to downtown on Saturday, Oct. 4.
Al Ashland serves as chairman for Harvest Festival and is looking forward to an especially great time this fall.
A wine lover’s delight
“It’s our 10-year anniversary of Harvest Fest, and we wanted to have something really special, so we’re going to have 10 special glasses — hopefully painted by one of the local artists here in town,” Ashland says.
Once completed, the 10 glasses will be randomly hidden away in the Harvest Festival bags that perennially sell out well in advance of the celebration. The nice thing, according to Ashland, is that anyone purchasing a bag will have a chance at obtaining not only the hand-painted glasses but a variety of other prizes.
“The 10 winners of the glasses will be entered into another drawing for 10 more prizes,” he says.
The 10 top prizes include a variety of items, many of which have been donated by Harvest Festival vendors and some made by area crafters and artisans.
Those who don’t receive one of the 10 special glasses will find no reason to be disappointed, as all the other bags will feature the 10th anniversary logo on the glasses that are included. In addition, the bags will hold a keepsake, laser engraved, wine stopper marking the anniversary. Even the bag itself is a cut above the ordinary for the 10th anniversary, according to Trish Fundermann, special projects director at the Chamber.
“The bag is a really nice, reusable jute wine bag, which will have our 10th anniversary logo,” she says. “They are so cool.”
Of course, there has to be something delicious to go in all the glasses included in the Harvest Festival bags.
“We’ll have 13 wine and beer sampling locations,” Ashland says. “It’s all Iowa beer and wineries that will be set up at the different retail spots around town.”
The wine tastings run from noon to 5 p.m., and locations for each of the different samplings will be included the bags. Festival passes are required for the tastings.
For those who favor a different kind of taste, Harvest Festival will again feature a homemade salsa contest. Registration will start 11 a.m. downtown. Public tasting of the salsa entries will run from 12:15 to 1:45 p.m., and the winners will be announced at 2 p.m.
Look for some tight competition and flavors in the mild to hot to please almost every taste.
Shop will you drop
Of course, it’s not all about the wine. For many, Harvest Festival is a lot about the shopping.
In addition to all the downtown stores open with Harvest Festival specials, Main Avenue will be filled with vendors offering everything from pottery to jewelry, pumpkins to produce and a plethora of choices for every taste.
“Typically we have about 70 to 80 vendors set up all around town,” Ashland says.
The vendors and giant farmers market will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. throughout the downtown district.
Another popular feature back this year will be the trolley rides and fall color tours. The tours will depart from downtown at 11 a.m., 12 p.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.
Fun and games for all
In addition to the wine and beer tasting, Ashland notes that there will be plenty of hands-on entertainment for people to join in with the fun.
“We have the grape stomp, the pumpkin roll, the waiter races, the salsa contest,” he says. “There’s just a lot going on, and we want everyone to have a good time.”
Ashland’s personal favorite is the grape stomp, ala “I Love Lucy” style.
Over the years, Ashland has flipped off his shoes and participated in the grape stomp himself, but now he has even more fun serving as the master of ceremonies for the event.
“Actually, I’ve done it twice, and I’ve never won anything yet,” he says with a laugh. “It’s a lot of fun.”
And, to build a little excitement into the event, he encourages new challengers to take on the veteran stompers.
“I think the champions from last year are returning this year to try and defend their title,” he notes.
The grape stomp is slated to kick off at 2 p.m. in front of Unique Boutique and will run until about 3:30 p.m.
For families, and just about everyone, one of the favorite events is the pumpkin roll. Expect some giant pumpkins to go rolling down Main Avenue when the contest gets underway at 3:30 p.m. in front of the Chamber office.
One of the newer contests for Harvest Festival is the waiter races — and it’s also a rapidly growing crowd favorite. No, you don’t have to be a waiter to participate, but you do have to want to have a little fun.
“They take a tray with glasses of water on it and then they have to run an obstacle course without spilling the water,” he says.
Fortunately, the rules are a little flexible on this contest, according to Ashland.
“We’re a little lenient on the water spillage,” he says with a grin.
Indeed, many of the past participants have been happy to finish running the course with any water left in the glass. Of course, this just might be the year when the waiters really show their stuff and keep those glasses brim-full.
For a more refined part of the festival, Wilcox Furniture will again host “A Table Setting Affair.” Festivalgoers can check out an abundance of beautiful place settings from local businesses all displayed at Wilcox Furniture from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Music fill the air downtown
Organizers are pleased that the 10th anniversary of Harvest Festival will bring even more music throughout the downtown area, with musical styles and tastes for just about everyone.
“We’re having not only jazz bands, but hopefully we’re going to have a stage set up by Larson’s Mercantile and have a band called Crossfire, which is more of a classic rock band,” Ashland says.
With everything from jazz to soul, easy listening to rock, there will be bands at several venues throughout the downtown most of the day. Here’s a look at the lineup.
• Crossfire, performing from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in front of Larson’s Mercantile.
• Easy Listening, performing from 11 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. in front of Wilcox Furniture.
• Five Friends Jazz Combo, performing from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Lady of the Lake.
• Nova Jazz, performing from 1:30-4:30 p.m. at the Clear Lake Arts Center.
• The Hats, performing from 2:15-4:30 p.m. in front of Hanson’s Fine Jewelry.
• Last Minute Combo, performing from 2:30-5 p.m. at the Lady of the Lake.
• Midwest Rock and Soul Review, performing from 3-5 p.m. on the Festival Stage.
The bands are all free as part of Harvest Festival, and all are invited to linger awhile downtown and take in as much of the entertainment as possible.
Firefighters host Sunday breakfast
A great way to finish up the Harvest Festival weekend is with the annual Clear Lake Fire Department pancake breakfast on Sunday, Oct. 5.
Firefighters will serve up pancakes, sausage, coffee, milk and orange juice from 7 a.m. to noon at the fire station on the corner of Second Avenue and Eighth Street.
Tickets will be available at door, and funds raised go to support the department throughout the year.
Haunted Hike returns in October
And finally, the October fun doesn’t have to end with Harvest Festival weekend. D & D Ranch will open for its annual Haunted Hike beginning on Friday, Oct. 10.
The ranch, at 2532 South Shore Drive, will be open for the hike each Friday and Saturday from 7-11 p.m. through Saturday, Nov. 1.
With its series of buildings and spook-tacular fun, the Haunted Hike has gained a reputation for being one of the best scares in Iowa, if not the entire Midwest. Children younger than 10 will not be admitted without an adult.
Each haunted hike takes about 20 minutes, but for the faint of heart it can seem much longer with blood-curdling screams and unexpected turns and twists throughout. There’s a haunted museum, a Wild West town and some eight acres of pasture where just about anything can happen.
Summer may be ending, but autumn in Clear Lake is just another reason to keep the fun going with a variety of events throughout the community.